A good friend of ours, Bennet Friedmann, knowing our enthusiasm for anything and everything wildlife, recommended a trip to Muriwai and the short climb up the steps from the beach to the gannet colony.
The Muriwai gannet colony is one of three mainland gannet colonies in New Zealand. The origin of the colony at Muriwai began on the island of Oaia, just off the coast where gannets first established nesting sites in the early 20th century. In the 1970’s, birds began to nest on the cliffs of the mainland. Come 1979 Auckland Regional Council established the Takapu Refuge with help from Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
Gannets are birds that comprise the genus Morus. Morus is derived from the ancient greek ‘moros’, meaning foolish, which relates to their lack of fear shown by gannets during the breeding season. Gannets are remarkable in their hunting capabilities. They dive from greats height (up to 30m) into the oceans (at 100kph) and chase prey beneath the water. There are a few adaptations that allow gannets to do this: their eyes are positioned for binocular vision allowing them to precisely judge distances, they have no external nostrils but instead have them internally within the mouth, and air-sacs beneath the face and chest act as cushioning reducing the impacts experienced when hitting the water.
At the colony, roughly 1,200 pairs nest from August to March each year. The area is tightly packed with each pair having a large pizza-sized area in which to nest, each being centimetres from their territorially ferocious neighbours. Each pair lays one egg and the parents take it in turns on the nest with the other parent out catching fish for the young chick. Once fully feathered and ready for their maiden flight, the young birds leap from the cliffs and head to Australia, returning 2-6 years later landing back in Muriwai.
It was a scorching hot day with little in the way of a breeze. When the breeze intermittently arrived, it brought with it the colony grade stench of gannet guano. The scene was awash with sand, white feathers and white guano. The sight was a spectacular one, if not blindingly bright, and full of activity. To see the gannets in action was incredible and is a must if you ever end up in the Auckland area.
To top off the experience the colony had a surprise guest (other than ourselves) who we were lucky enough to meet, even if only briefly. Our next blog post will discuss this guest among gannets.
References and Further Reading
Wikipedia – Gannet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gannet (Retrieved 13 March 2017)
100% Pure New Zealand – Muriwai Gannet Colony http://www.newzealand.com/int/feature/muriwai-gannet-colony/ (Retrieved 13 March 2017)
Gannets at Muriwai – http://gannets.hafner.co.nz/index.html (Retrieved 13 March 2017)
NZBirds Online – Australasian Gannet http://www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz/species/australasian-gannet (Retrieved 13 March 2017)